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Published: April 4th 2014
In a country where we quickly determined there was more scenic diversity than advertised we began our journey to the southwest and southern part of this fascinating land. Our trip was already two weeks old and we’d seen and experienced so much, it was almost difficult to imagine what we could find next that would match what we had already experienced. But we found it…..and more. Dingle
First….a little background. When we were in Dublin at a pub called the Brazen Head for an evening of story telling and music (to be described in our future Dublin blog), we had the good fortune of striking up a conversation with Johnny, who was the storyteller. He was extremely proud of his land and when we told him we would be in Ireland for the better part of four weeks, he began to offer many suggestions and made many notes on a map indicating some of the really great places to see. We heeded his advice on many occasions, but his knowledge really came in handy when visiting the south and southwest of Ireland.
After the rugged beauty of Donegal and the castles of Cong and
Headed out of Killarney
On the way to the Ring of Kerry
New Market on the Fergus, we struck out for the Dingle peninsula, which promised the beautiful village of Dingle and a scenic drive. To say that Dingle is a cute seaside village is an understatement. The buildings are painted lively colors and we spent a little time there and satisfied our continuing hunger for the great soups of Ireland by stopping in at Ashes’s Bar, well known in this area for the seafood chowder. We continued out of town and headed to the north part of the peninsula, where we would stay the night.
Our accommodations were strongly recommended by The Travel Camel
Shortly after arriving and meeting our host Sile, we settled in by the fire for some tea and reading. The phone rang, and to our surprise….it was the Travel Camel, calling from Kuala Lumpur!!! We had a nice chat with him and although we’ve never met in person, we felt like we’d connected with another kindred spirit of traveling. Our meal that night was scrumptious and upon leaving the next morning, we regretted not having booked another night….but it was time to move on., who stayed there the previous fall. As he is well versed in these sorts
Azure waters of Sheepshead Peninsula
Got great advice and took this drive
of things, we followed his sage advice and were well rewarded. The water view from Gorman’s Cliff Top House was stunning to say the least and not only that, our good luck with weather continued as the sun shone brightly, bringing out the beautiful green blue colors and hues of the peninsula.
Although our next stop was Killarney, we realized that the Dingle peninsula had a lot to offer. We found time for the Slea Head drive and over Conner Pass, which offers many stunning vistas even on drizzly, foggy days and our morning drive over Conner Pass was foggy and mystical. The day of St. Brendan
We realized we were not far from a small town to the northeast named Fenit, famous for being the birthplace of St. Brendan, the patron saint of navigators. We quickly surmised that we must find the statue of St. Brendan for our good friend, bvchef
. All good Travel Bloggers should pay their respects. It was a no-brainer of a decision and the kind of mission we love to set out on when traveling. We motored to Fenit and found the monument out on a small hill
One land road for part of the drive
on a spit of land. The bronze statue was at least 12 feet tall and rather imposing overlooking the water. Mission accomplished! On to Killarney. Killarney
A cute hamlet and perhaps best known for its location as a tourist destination and as a jumping off point for the Ring of Kerry, we continued our quest for the best traditional Irish music. We booked a modest accommodation that best served the purpose of putting us within a short walk of the town center. We wandered the streets and stopped in at the Killarney Grand Hotel and listened to some local music. We arrived early to soak up some suds and get a good seat for the performance. We relaxed near the fire and watched the place fill up as 9:30pm approached.
Music fills the air and for some people fills their hearts. We are those people who love to listen to music and seek it out whenever we can. Ireland has proven to be a musical journey for us. Plenty of pubs with performers in the evenings to make us happy listeners. Single performers in some cases, duets, quartets or a casual group of musicians waiting
With a view of the Kilarney Lower Lake
to see who shows up that evening to play with.
The music was quite nice, but we noticed often times there was no singing involved and the artists rarely looked up from playing. A bit odd, but nice nonetheless. And as it can happen, we were seated right next to a group from the U.S. who were on a bus tour from Ohio and West Virginia, near where we both grew up. They were having a great time and we were happy to see them out traveling. Bus tours are not our cup of tea, but this group seemed to be having a grand time.
The next morning we headed out to have a look at the Muckross House and surrounding grounds. A very opulent place built in the 19th
century as a country home and hunting lodge. Why someone needed a couple of dozen bedrooms is hard to fathom, but when you’ve got that kind of money…..
The house is situated on 10,000 plus acres and is quite lovely. It was willed to the government of Ireland and eventually turned into a tourist destination. While there, we walked about and hired a “jaunting car.” This is
essentially a horse-drawn carriage, but the name is cute. The driver was a 69 year-old local who took us around a bit and dropped us off at the Torc Falls, which were quite nice.
We had read a fair amount about the famous Ring of Kerry and the descriptions of the beauty of the drive and the tour buses, which can make the drive interesting. As we had a car, we decided to get up very early and start at dawn to avoid any potential traffic issues. Being off-season, we felt pretty good about our decision. The drive was quite nice, but we both agreed that the Dingle peninsula was just as nice if not nicer. There were some nice vistas and it was worth the drive.
We hate to admit it but we actually thought about not driving the Ring of Kerry. We’ve been driving the country for several weeks now and everyone is proud of their county and insisting that we must make “such and such drive”. We have made more scenic drives and walks than one can imagine. In each drive we have been rewarded but we were growing weary of scenic drives. I mean
Monday night Jam at Dalton's
The boys are back in town....
really how different can they be? What can the Ring of Kerry really offer? But we decided since it was one of the more well known drives we would be remiss in blowing it off. The sun came out for us as it has most days and it made the water glimmer in the sunshine. It truly is a beautiful drive and we were happy to have done it.
Continuing on our way to our next destination in Kinsale, Johnny (from the pub in Dublin) had mentioned the Sheepshead peninsula as a beautiful drive. We heeded this advice and were well rewarded. The sea’s color was stunning and reminded us of southern Europe, Greece in particular. Hard to describe and hopefully the pictures will do it justice. Now this one was a stunning drive! Please add it to your list.
Now a quick word about driving in Ireland and gauging the time needed for your drive. You look at a map and think, “that’s not very far, and it’s only 100 kilometers.” We knew not to be tricked by this because we had previously driven on the small roads in Scotland. We recommend you plan on the drive
taking almost twice as long as you think and you will do well.
Don’t be fooled by the seemingly short distances as it takes a while to get where you’re going as you are on smaller roads, traveling no more than 60 to 70 km/hour (35-45 mph) and going through a town every 10 km or so. Each of the towns will have at least two things; a pub and a church, no matter how small…count on it.
We arrived almost eight hours after beginning the day’s voyage and were tired and a bit cranky from having been in the car longer than we planned. Most days we had not driven far from point A to point B, but this day was a long one…..but we were rewarded in the end. Most days we’ve only driven a couple of hours. Kinsale
Upon our arrival in Kinsale, we stopped at a wonderful B&B, which provided us with some luxury and comfort that was well deserved. The Old Presbytery is right in the heart of this seaside town and our room had everything tired travelers could need, including a small sitting room with a
The gang at Oscar Madison's in Kinsale
The former mayor is in the middle.....maybe
view of the village. We took extremely long showers and slept the sleep of weary travelers, arising leisurely in the morning to begin anew.
Kinsale is known as the gourmet capital of Ireland and we concur whole-heartedly. The availability of fresh fish combined with chef’s skills equal some seriously tasty meals. We feasted for two days and nights on the culinary treats, while wandering the town and generally being lazy.
On our second night, we ventured out to listen to some music and hit the jackpot when we arrived at Dalton’s, which was but a stone’s throw from our hotel. It was a Monday night, when the locals get together and play and sing the traditional songs we had been craving. We managed to get the last two seats at the bar in this tiny place and sat for a couple of hours just drinking in the local flavor (along with a few pints of Irish amber ale).
What made Dalton’s special was the group of musicians who were playing that night. Evidentially, they play every Monday night. Seasoned musicians who enjoy playing together. They would play and sing Irish songs. Many locals were there to sing
Oscar Madison's Pub in Kinsale
Seems the former owner really liked the old show.
along with the songs. At several points during the evening they would “hush” the room and one of the locals would stand to lead them in a song or poem. It was a precious experience and what we had been seeking all along. This evening will be a stand out in our minds forever.
We have been pleasantly surprised time and time again by the quality of the food in Ireland. The chefs of Ireland can compete in the world market. We’ve also run into a few chefs from Germany and France. Cashel
We left Kinsale, with our next destination only about 20 km to the north in Cork city. As usual, we looked in our books for some places to visit and found almost nothing about the city. Then we arrived and discovered why. We rolled into town and were immediately underwhelmed by the surroundings.
It seemed grungy and frankly in some places, a bit dodgy. Sorry, no intent to offend anyone but …. We didn’t like the looks of Cork. We were just trying to find our B&B, but were having trouble. After circling for a while, Merry Jo finally
Keeping the beat in Kilkenny
Local music in many locations
said what we both were thinking. This was not for us so we abandoned our decision to stay in Cork.
A quick consultation with one of our guide books and we were back on the highway, headed for the tiny town of Cashel, home of St. Patrick’s Rock of Cashel.
We stopped in the visitor’s center and called a local B&B where we made arrangements for the night. After dropping our luggage, contacting the B&B in Cork telling them we would not be staying in Cork, we headed out to explore the Rock…. of Cashel, which is an imposing structure on a hill overlooking the town. The afternoon was bright and sunny. It was one of the warmest days of our trip as the thermometer soared to 14C (60 degrees). We trekked up the hill and took a guided tour of the castle, which has yet again, a fascinating story of architecture, religion and warfare, continuing a general theme of many a castle in Ireland, which was built to stave off invaders.
The sunny weather only enhanced the views from the “Rock” and we took many photos that afternoon. Afterwards, we walked back into town, had an
Kickin' it in Kilarney
More traditional Irish music
early dinner at a fine pub and retired for the evening, somewhat sad that our journey was coming to an end in just less than a week. But we were nowhere near ready to stop enjoying our experiences, so on to Kilkenny. Kilkenny
This town could perhaps be best described as a medieval city with lots of character on the river Nore. Once the unofficial capital of Ireland back when the English were in charge, Kilkenny has lots of warmth, food and music to occupy travelers for a couple of days.
Now in all fairness, we’ve seen a fair amount of castles since while in this country. Some have been nicely restored, some are in various stages of decay, others appear to be falling down and some are in transition. Our favorite castle that is not a hotel is the Kilkenny Castle. They’ve really done a great job restoring it to its former beauty. Well worth your time to check this one out.
Now for some, this may be a bit silly, but this town has a little “train” that takes you around town for about 30 minutes with a running tape
Kilarney National Park
Dark skies at dawn over the upper lake
that includes some history and interesting tales about the town. Bigger cities have the hop-on hop-off buses. The smaller burghs have the little trains. We always find good value here because you get a sense of the town and can come back around later to get a better look.
We also strolled about a couple of times and took in the Canice Cathedral and Tower among other sites. The tower is only one of two circular ones in the land and has a great view of Kilkenny, but you climb up some seven flights of very tall and narrow stairs to get to the top. Dave made it up there, but didn’t stay long as it was a bit windy and rainy at the time. MJ made it up six flights but the windows prevented her from reaching the top. The climb is not really for anyone who either is afraid of heights or claustrophobic. They also want 3 Euro for the pleasure of this workout.
We can report that the dining and Irish music here are of good quality. Our sample size was large enough to make this statement. And the soups remain fantastic to sample!
Tower view of Kilkenny A weather report
Quite a climb to get this picture.
Ireland has had a cold and record breaking rainy winter. In February, they had a hurricane with winds over 160 miles per hour. Many 200 year-old trees have been lost. We’ve listened to the locals tell their stories about surviving this winter and all the horrible winds. Some older folks say it was the worst in their memory. Lots of cleaning up to do. This can be quite challenging when you’re dealing with trees that are a couple of meters in diameter.
Many locals have apologized to us for the cold and rainy March weather. We’ve had a few days colder than we were expecting but if you come to Ireland in March and are not prepared for rain then you should not come in March.
We are on the verge of an explosion of colors. The daffodils have been poking their heads out since we arrived and the roadsides are filled with the yellow blooms of the gorse bush. We’ve seen a few magnolia trees in bloom.
It is slowing warming up and we’ve noticed the buds are on all the trees. We wish we could
be here in another two weeks when all the colors will pop. With that said…….we can tell you that Ireland’s nature offers 50 Shades……of green. Light green, dark green, bright green, mossy green and greens that cannot be described. It is lovely how one green flows into another and creates a picture perfect setting. It is calming and peaceful. Places we stayed:
Gorman’s Clifftop House - Dingle Penisula
Ardee House – Killarney
The Presbsytery - Kinsale
The Ashmore B&B - Cashel
The Pembroke Hotel – Kilkenny Restaurants not to be missed: Mareena’s in Killarney !!!
The Smoke House was pretty good also Max’s in Kinsale !!
Fishy Fishy in Kinsale ** We’ve found many, many great places to listen to music but our favorite has been Dalton’s Pub in Kinsale. Get there by 830pm on Mondays if you want a seat.
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